MEMORIES OF A BALLPLAYER
Bill Werber and Baseball in the 1930's
Bill Werber and C. Paul Rogers III
He was eighty-eight when I talked to him on the phone recently, has
two new knees, and no longer bounces around on the balls of his feet as he
did when he was a charter member of the Jungle Club. He has had
quadruple bypass surgery, but his voice is strong and he laughs easily. Says
he rides his bicycle daily for exercise, which he can do in Hayden, Idaho,
without concern for traffic, and every evening at 7:30 he attends church. I
tell him, "That's not going to get you into heaven."
He chuckles and says, "Probably not, but I'll give it a chance:
His oldest son Tom is an attorney in Hayden, and Lonny is surrounded
by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His beloved wife
Mary passed away some years ago, as did his first born, Jerry. Time has
helped to ease the pain of these losses, and Mike, his youngest, lives nearby.
Lonny seems at peace with the world.
Back up fifty-nine years and this same Lonny Frey is one of the principal
reasons the Cincinnati Reds ended a twenty-year drought and won the
1939 pennant. He hit .291 and scored 95 runs in '39, followed by a .266
average for our World Championship team in 1940, while playing a mean
second base. More than his statistics, however, were the intangible qualities
Lonny brought to the team. Every club has players of outstanding talent
and bad habits, but the team seldom wins without players of substance
and character who come through when the chips are down. Lonny was one
When I was sold to the Reds by Connie Mack in the late spring of 1939,
I naturally began to assess my new teammates. You naturally form opinions
from a ballplayer's performance on the field, but also from the way he
dresses, the way he talks, and what he talks about. A newcomer observes
these things and tends to gravitate toward the teammates with whom he
feels most comfortable. A veteran like me tends to move slowly before
settling into friendships, but Lonny Frey became my friend-after Dusty
Cooke the best friend I had in thirteen years of professional baseball.
Lonny was a veteran like me. He had come to the big leagues with
Brooklyn in 1933 and played shortstop for the Dodgers for five years. After
he spent 1937 with the Cubs, the Reds purchased him to plug a hole at
second base, which he did with considerable skill and alacrity for seven years.
By the time Lonny hung up his cleats in 1948 after late career stints with
the Cubs, Giants, and Yankees, he had appeared in three All Star Games
and three World Series.
Lonny and I shared many of the same habits and attitudes. He did not
smoke or drink and was devoted to his wife Mary and his children, Jerry,
Tom and Mike. He liked a movie after a ballgame and was a good sleeper.
He was devoutly religious and a regular attendee at Catholic services on
Sunday morning. I'm not Catholic, but I sometimes attended with him.
Lonny could not explain to me the constant rising and sitting and rising at
Mass or the Latin of the priests, but it did not matter. We both could have
been doing worse. When we were playing at the Polo Grounds or Ebbets
Field, Lonny loved to go to St. Patricks Cathedral, burn a candle, put
money in the poor box, and say a prayer. I went with him and made small
contributions as well. If the next day I got the hits and he went for the col-
lar, I'd tell him that Catholicism worked better for me than it did for him.
Lonny brought those intangible qualities of good humor and depend-
ability to the ballpark every day. He had the stability and self-confidence
gained from a secure family and spiritual life. He also had good physical
assets as well. He was one of the fastest men on the Reds (he led the league
with 22 stolen bases in 1940), and he used his speed to advantage both on
offense and defense. Through it all "the Leopard" covered a great expanse
of territory around second base and excelled at making the double play. He
was steady. You could count on his doing the right thing at the right time
during a game. I suspect that is still true.